CEO x Member Connect:
In Conversation with Christopher Barry

Christina Wong, Strategic Communications Lead with CSSE, recently sat down with Christopher Barry, CEO of CSSE, in his home in Toronto for a fireside chat to address the questions we have been hearing from the membership.  In this interview, learn more about Christopher and what brought him to CSSE, what it has been like in the first six-months in the role, and what his views are on the vision for CSSE. 

The beautiful painting behind Christopher is credited to his mother. What a talented artist!

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Tell us more about your career journey.
I've had three careers. The first one was in the military where I was an officer in the Canadian Army, and the second career was in business where I worked in financial services and in supply chain as a senior executive and the third career is working with not-for-profit organizations and doing turnaround and transformations. So, this is an exciting opportunity. There's a lot to do and I'm very much looking forward to getting it done.

What brought you to CSSE?
I think there are a couple of nuances in the opportunity that were quite interesting. First, it's not really a turnaround. It's more of a transformation. This is an organization that's gone through a lot of change; a lot of upheaval. And I saw it as an opportunity to help restore trust amongst the membership - trust between the membership and the Board; and to bring some management to an organization that was trying to find its way in a changing environment.

What do you think you are a good fit for CSSE?
Well, it's no secret that I'm not a health and safety professional, but what I do bring to the table is an understanding of trade associations and professional organizations and what they really need to do and to be in order to achieve success. So, I was intrigued by the challenge. I thought there were some extraordinary opportunities to add value to the organization. It's an ongoing challenge, but it's one that I'm very excited about.

What is your approach to leadership?
Leadership is very much a two-way street. Organizations like CSSE exist to do for the membership, what the membership cannot do for themselves. My approach is really around people and process. How are we going to bring people into the organization and rejuvenate the membership and give it that extra nuance that I think it really does need in 2022. As well, how do we build the processes that reinforce people's perception of the value of belonging to the CSSE and what that can do for them in their career and in their professional lives.

What are you most proud of in CSSE?
What I'm most proud of in the last six months is really two-fold. First, we've brought some management discipline into the organization, where we've been able to focus on tangible achievements around membership value and around our governance. There's an accountability in the organization that I think was lacking heretofore.  And the other side of that, is really an opportunity to listen to the membership and understand what their concerns have been and how we might address those concerns. So, it's been a very busy six months.

You can't have a problem or a challenge like this unravel itself in just six months. It took nearly ten to 12 years to build. It's going to take a little while longer to remedy every aspect of it. But I'm quite pleased with the progress we're making.

Where can CSSE members start to feel the change?
My focus for change really is around improving the response time to the membership for the many questions that they have about direction.  We have a Help Desk now that is pledged to a two-business day turnaround time for just about any inquiry.

The other part of it is where can we continue to improve our processes. And that would be around membership value and around the kind of networking opportunities that we continue to provide to our membership.

What do you mean by “one CSSE”?
I've had a lot of questions from members about what I what I've called “one CSSE” and what I mean by one CSSE. I really mean that we're an organization that's rather like a flotilla or fleet of ships.

Some of the chapters that we have are our aircraft carriers. They're large, they're very big. They have a lot of depth to draw on in terms of their membership. We have other chapters that are smaller and some that are smaller still.  We haven't been sailing in the same direction, I believe, in the past. So, it's an improvement. We have a sense of where we're going, what we'd like to achieve. And what that relates to is what do we do that the membership can't do for themselves? What services are we providing that our membership can't provide for themselves? And that's networking, that's education, that's opportunities to listen to lectures or commentary about changes in the discipline. All of that is part of what we can do for the membership and for which they really will see a value.

When can the members expect changes?
Well, I think the change has already started. It may not be apparent to everyone, but on small things. I come from Montreal. And for us, it is very important to speak French. It's something that our membership expects. We're a very diverse country. We should be listening to everyone. Whether you are in Quebec or in other parts of Canada, we are listening to the diversity of our membership and taking steps to recognize that. We are looking at our education and our offering and realizing that it needs to change. Courses need to match the realities of our challenge today in safety. We've just had two years of COVID. What's our education offering around that? We're looking at other changes as our governance and membership change. This is not an organization that stands still. The best of us are constantly improving, constantly looking for new ways to address safety issues. We have to be an organization that matches that energy and that efficiency and so we've started and I think there'll be much more coming along over the next four or five months.

What’s your call-to-action to members?
Let's grow our membership together. We have [more than] 32,000 safety professionals in this country. Many of them are looking for an organization that gives them value, looking for services that they can't do for themselves. We have an opportunity to talk to all of those people and to invite them to join the new reinvigorated CSSE. I think that the membership is our most exciting characteristic, whether it's a group membership, a professional membership, a retired membership, or especially now a student membership, because that's our future. We have opportunities to work together and we're looking to make a much stronger statement in the world of safety than perhaps we've had in past years.

We have a number of features. One is Ask the CEO. You can call me, or you can write to me, and I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you have.

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